Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant Review

Caligula’s Horse are among a dwindling cohort of acts that both Angry Metal Guy and I like. They possess the rare ability to ice over my magmatic hatred for major scales and attack the often sterile or maudlin prog genre with a passion and sincerity that few can match. An uncanny knack for melodic and rhythmic hooks doesn’t hurt either, and on their fourth record, that energy and skill came together to create a magnificent and moving concept album. In Contact was one of the best records of the 2010s, an extremely ambitious concept album that connected both lyrically and musically on a level above anything the band had accomplished before. That unexpected success puts its follow-up, Rise Radiant, under pressure.

“Tempest” triumphantly opens Rise Radiant in a storm of heavy riffing broken by Jim Grey’s soaring voice. Sam Vallen provides chunky grooves and a powerful tremolo-picked lead to back Grey’s falsetto and gets a solo spot in the bridge to perform his prodigious prestidigitation. “Slow Violence” recapitulates that storm at a reduced pace and with an even stronger groove. Dale Prinsse’s1 bass work grounds the record, placing notes with confidence and tact whether beneath exuberant choruses or as a melodic accompaniment to Grey’s soft crooning in “Salt” and “Autumn.” The former’s halting, lilting melody is one of the record’s most memorable.

It’s not all hits, though. The record’s requisite cheesy prog track comes with the subdued “Resonate,” which sees Grey crooning over the backing music to a meditation tape. It’s a weak end to the record’s A-side, and the second half can’t quite match that introductory three-song hit. “Oceanrise” and “Valkyrie” follow the band’s formula but don’t quite make an impact. They’re loud and fast-paced cuts that don’t demonstrate the band’s dynamism well, relying on straightforward structures that hinge on somewhat forgettable choruses. It’s not until the slow, melodic “Autumn” that they change things up and regain their footing. “Autumn” and “The Ascent” are both long, ambitious songs that let the band flex their compositional muscle and live up to the promise of the record’s first few tracks.

Despite the missteps, Rise Radiant still feels like a Caligula’s Horse record through and through. The band’s anthemic, groovy cuts are presented in contrast with more subdued, vulnerable material and they can manage both with aplomb. Yet I can’t help but notice the band recycle a few bits from mid-period Leprous. The opening to “Oceanrise” could have fit perfectly into The Congregation, with scratchy guitar chords accenting an uncanny Grey-does-Solberg vocal melody. “The Ascent” ends on a similarly Leprous crawl, with intersecting vocal lines repeated above tight chords. The record also boasts a few clunky lyrics that feel just a tad Solbergian—“Resonate” is pretty bad, but see the “Slow Violence” pre-chorus/ending for the worst of them.2 Most of Grey’s lines are much better than these missteps would suggest, and his dynamic delivery raises Rise Radiant’s peaks above the heights most other bands could reach. Caligula’s Horse’s collective talent is as clear as ever on their fifth record, even if their execution is uneven.

Rise Radiant’s best songs are a joy to experience; concise, catchy, and energetic prog rock that Caligula’s Horse are unmatched in creating. Those great cuts provide thick bookends for an album that stands up straight only by their pressure. Without the intro and outro of “Tempest” and “The Ascent,” Rise Radiant feels a bit thin, lacking the diversity and audacity of In Contact and missing the mark even on its riskier tracks. It’s also not quite as fun as Bloom, with a lot of Vallen’s riffs feeling overshadowed by overemphasized choruses. Radiant boasts just enough good material to get by, keeping the Horse alive if not in racing (let alone legislating) shape. But Incitatus needs to manage a more impressive stunt than this to stay in the history books.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Inside Out Records
Websites: caligulashorse.com | facebook.com/caligulashorse
Releases Worldwide:
May 22nd, 2020

 

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Originally attributed to CH‘s previous bassist, Dave Couper. Thanks to him for the correction.
  2. “If I could run / the way your god conceals his gun.
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